Focus on HOW Not Just WHAT You Feed Your Kids

Are you overly focused on WHAT your kids are eating instead of thinking about HOW they're eating? 

WHY THIS MATTERS

Understanding the significance of not just what we feed our children but also how we feed them can profoundly shape their relationship with food, fostering healthier habits and reducing mealtime stress.

The Transition Phase: A Crucial Time 

When my first baby transitioned from breast feeding to solid foods, I realized the importance of this phase.

This transition is a time when we can influence our children's relationship with food and help them develop habits (ones that will carry with them into adolescents and even adulthood). The literature supports this critical period; highlighting that how we approach feeding can shape lifelong behaviors and attitudes towards food.

The Confusion and Contradiction of Nutritional Advice 

After realizing this, I knew that I had to do things differently. And with my first child, it seemed to work well. She was an adventurous eater, and I thought I had this all figured out.

However, my second child had different food preferences, and I felt confused and overwhelmed. Why wasn't this working anymore? I thought I knew what I was doing!

So, I started looking beyond the literature and sought advice. The problem is that advice is often conflicting.

"Kids like sweet foods, start with fruit."

"Don't start with fruit or your kids will only want sweet foods.

Start with Vegetables."

"Fruits ... vegetables ... doesn't really matter.

Just don't forget about iron rich foods."

"It doesn't matter what you start with, just be sure

to give them lots of flavors all at once."

"What?! NO WAY. Only one food at a time or you'll miss allergies."

And on and on and on.

The contradictions made it impossible to follow all the advice, which just left me feeling more confused and like I was failing. All the time.

The Role of Reliable Information 

A 2019 qualitative study of first-time parents highlighted these challenges1. During the transition to solid foods, this study found that mothers - often identified as having sole responsibility for their child’s food intake - were overwhelmed by the need to do the "right" thing in the "right" way.

Reliable information was crucial, yet the abundance of conflicting advice created insecurity and confusion.

Insights from Recent Research 

But we shouldn't lose hope. A 2022 randomized trial involving 246 first-time mothers and their infants2 provides valuable insights about how to deal with this.

The study compared four groups: one focused on exposing children to a variety of fruits and vegetables (the "what" group), another on responsive feeding practices (the "how" group), a third combining both approaches ("what" and "how"), and a fourth control group.

The findings were clear: focusing on how you feed your children, or a combination of how and what, led to more sensitive feeding behaviors and less pressure to eat.

Four Strategies to Focus on How You Feed Your Kids

So how can you learn from these findings and ensure that you shift your focus from solely thinking about WHAT you feed your kiddos? Here are my suggestions.

1.  Reflect on Your Family's Values: Think about what you and your partner value and how these values can be reflected in your mealtime decisions and discussions about food.

2.  Envision Your Future Eater: Consider what kind of eater you want your child to be in the future. Focus on fostering a positive relationship with food rather than just specific eating habits.

3.  Clarify Roles and Responsibilities: Be clear about your role in deciding what foods come into the home and when they are served, and your child’s role in deciding how much to eat. This aligns with Ellen Satter's division of responsibility.

4.  Keep the Big Picture in Mind: Understand that children’s appetites vary day-to-day. Focus on consistent messaging and behaviors over time rather than stressing about individual meals.

CONCLUSION

While what you feed your children is important, how you approach feeding them is equally, if not more, crucial for developing healthy eating habits. Consistent, positive mealtime practices can significantly influence their lifelong relationship with food.

Call to Action 

I want to hear from you! What tips do you have for keeping the big picture in mind and helping your kids develop a lifelong positive relationship with food? Head over to Instagram, LinkedIn or You Tube and let me know!


References

1 Norlyk, A. et al. Infants' transition from milk to solid foods - the lived experience of first-time parents. Int. J Qual Studies on Health & Wellbeing. 2019. 14. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482631.2019.1693483

2 van Vliet, MS., et al. The Baby's First Bites RCT: Evaluating a Vegetable-Exposure and a Sensitive-Feeding Intervention in Terms of Child Health Outcomes and Maternal Feeding Behavior During Toddlerhood. J Nutr 2022.152: 386-398

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